Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Reprimand For Sex And Conflicts With Vulnerable Client

An agreed upon reprimand has been imposed by the South Carolina Supreme Court

Respondent was retained by Client in October 2018 to represent Client in a family court matter after Client's husband abruptly left the marital home. Client was a stay-at-home mother with two young children. She had previously given up her career to provide the stability, consistency, and regularity necessary to care for her son with autism. Through Respondent's efforts, the family court issued a temporary order awarding Client primary custody of the children, child support, spousal support, the use of the marital home, and other provisions. Client spoke to Respondent about hiring a private investigator based on her suspicions that her husband was having an affair. However, Respondent told Client it was unnecessary. In April 2019, a woman in Texas texted Client and stated she was having an affair with Client's husband. Respondent thereafter requested husband's bank records and subsequently amended the complaint to allege Client was entitled to a divorce on the ground of adultery. Husband ultimately admitted he was having an ongoing affair with the woman in Texas.

Sometime in April or May 2019, Respondent and Client began a sexual relationship. Client was extremely vulnerable during this time due to her emotional and financial uncertainty for both herself and her children, as Husband was not paying the required child or spousal support, and the son with autism was regressing. Client and Respondent had discussions about the future of their relationship and potential marriage. Client believed Respondent loved her and would take care of her. Respondent told Client that he could face sanctions for engaging in a sexual relationship with her. Respondent failed to advise Client about the significant potential of harm to her in her divorce action because of the relationship. In addition, Respondent did not advise Client that their relationship was a conflict of interest or that his representation of her could be materially limited by his personal interests.

On August 16, 2019, the family court granted Client a divorce on the ground of adultery. The signed divorce decree was entered the same day. Respondent called Client on August 26, 2019, and ended the affair for what he claimed to be "multiple reasons, both professional and personal." Client was shocked and devastated. Respondent self-reported the misconduct to ODC on September 5, 2019.

Sanction

We find Respondent's misconduct warrants a public reprimand.

(Mike Frisch)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2021/04/an-agreed-upon-reprimand-has-been-imposed-by-the-south-carolina-supreme-court-respondent-was-retained-by-client-in-october-2.html

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